January 2008 | Ouray, Colorado
The New Year begins with a brand new day. I think of the blue sky, the cold crisp Montana winter and think, “Why not go outside and play?”
It is a logical thought, being that I was raised with wilderness values and sharing them with my kids is the best thing possible. So we rally into the woods behind our house in Bozeman, Montana. The woods are silent under a slender blanket of snow; the sun slightly thinned by a cover of clouds and what in the spring and summer is a meadow of flowers, simply a stark canvas of white. Our three sons are in the same landscape, but they don’t “see” it as I do. For them it is a place to sled, build snow forts and engage in the timeless sport of hucking snowballs. As I stand to the side, coaxing a bit of heat from the stove for the mandatory hot chocolate, I realize that life is a circle. I was the rambunctious kid playing in the snow; my dad was the one looking at the landscape from a philosopher’s view. He taught and so I teach the next generation.
Next stop – the Ouray Ice Festival. Nestled in a crease of the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado, Ouray is the gathering of the tribe. What tribe is this? The tribe of ice climbers. From one vantage, the most ridiculous sport one can imagine, swinging knives into frozen waterfalls. Waterfalls that will fall down. Waterfalls that are dangerous. Yeah – this is why we like ice climbing. Danger. Risk life and you know how precious it is. And when it is precious you rejoice in its presence. And those that groove on it? They are your best friends. Warren MacDonald – lost his legs when a boulder pinned him in Tasmania. Fire? More so than ever. Malcolm Daly – an old school bro who on the 21st of May some years back pitched off a climb. Shattered an ankle only to lose it a year or two later. Motivation? Never ebbed. Ines Papert – her climbing partner and friend Hari Berger buried under tons of ice a day before his daughter first breathes. Drive? Best mixed climber – regardless of gender. Timmy O’Neill – his brother defiant in his wheel chair, flipping self-absorbed cell phone drivers off. And just last year, his partner falling and landing at the base of climb. Life gone and a dark set of questions he’ll ask of himself and never be able to answer. Purpose? Laughter and a smile.
This is our tribe.
Forged under duress, with the pain of loss ever present. Yet as any smithy will tell you, the hotter the fire and the more forceful the strike, the stronger the steel. This is our mettle. And once a year we gather together, to laugh, to cheer, to motivate, to commiserate and to share a tear for our fallen.
Being outdoors offers us a connection to the primal past. As we were 40,000 years ago – when we domesticated fire and wolves became dogs. This is our life and this is how we choose to live it. To the elemental.
Go out and find it. If it finds you – all the better. Embrace it and see where it takes you. You’ll (by my estimation) be most surprised.